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Parkour speed vault portrait.jpg
A traceur performing a speed vault
Also known asPK, Art of Movement [1][2][3]
FocusObstacle passing
Country of origin France
CreatorDavid Belle
Famous practitionersSebastien Foucan
Daniel Ilabaca
Ryan Doyle
Tim Shieff
Damien Walters
Descendant artsFreerunning
Olympic sportNo
Martial artNo
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Parkour speed vault portrait.jpg
A traceur performing a speed vault
Also known asPK, Art of Movement [1][2][3]
FocusObstacle passing
Country of origin France
CreatorDavid Belle
Famous practitionersSebastien Foucan
Daniel Ilabaca
Ryan Doyle
Tim Shieff
Damien Walters
Descendant artsFreerunning
Olympic sportNo
Martial artNo

Parkour (French pronunciation: ​[paʁkuʁ]) is a holistic training discipline using movement that developed from military obstacle course training.[4][5][6] Practitioners aim to get from A to B in the most efficient way possible. This is done using only the human body and the surroundings for propulsion, with a focus on maintaining as much momentum as possible while still remaining safe. Parkour can include obstacle courses, running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, rolling, quadrupedal movement, and the like, depending on what movement is deemed most suitable for the given situation.[7][8][9]

Parkour is an activity that can be practiced alone or with others. Although it can be practiced in any location, it is usually practiced in urban spaces.[10][11] Parkour involves seeing one's environment in a new way, and imagining the potentialities for navigating it by movement around, across, through, over and under its features.[12][13]

Developed in France, primarily by Raymond Belle, David Belle, and Sébastien Foucan during the late 1980s,[14][15] Parkour became popular in the late 1990s and 2000s through films, documentaries, and advertisements featuring these practitioners and others.[4]

Parkour is becoming a recognised sport with competitions, events and official teams around the world.

Parkour's training methods have inspired a range of other activities, including freerunning and l'art du déplacement. Although their creators define them as separate activities, practitioners and non-practitioners alike often find it difficult to discern the differences between them.


"Le parcours" ("the course") was the French phrase passed down to David Belle from his father Raymond Belle. The term derives from "parcours du combattant", the classic obstacle-course method of military training proposed by Georges Hébert,[16][17][18] the term "le parcours" was used by Raymond to encompass all of his training including climbing, jumping, running, balancing, and the other methods he undertook in his personal athletic advancement. One day when David Belle was on a film set, he showed his 'Speed Air Man' video to Hubert Koundé, who suggested to change the "c" of "parcours" to a "k" because it was more dynamic and stronger, and to remove the silent "s" for the same reason.[citation needed] Belle liked the idea and officially changed the name of his discipline to "parkour".[citation needed]

A practitioner of parkour is often called a traceur, with the feminine form being traceuse.[7] They are nouns derived from the French verb tracer, which normally means "to trace", as in "tracing a path", in reference to drawing.[19] The verb tracer used familiarly means: "to buck up".[20] The term traceur was originally the name of a parkour group headed by David Belle which included Sébastien Foucan and Stephane Vigroux.[21]

A jam refers to a meeting of traceurs, involving training lasting anywhere from hours to several days, often with people from different cities. The first parkour jam was organized in July 2002 by Romain Drouet, with a dozen people including Sébastien Foucan and Stephane Vigroux.


David Belle is considered the founder of parkour.

In Western Europe, a forerunner of parkour was French naval officer Georges Hébert, who before World War I promoted athletic skill based on the models of indigenous tribes he had met in Africa.[22] He noted, "their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skillful, enduring, and resistant but yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature."[22] His rescue efforts during the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée on Saint-Pierre, Martinique, reinforced his belief that athletic skill must be combined with courage and altruism.[22] Hébert became a physical education tutor at the college of Reims in France. Hébert set up a "méthode naturelle" (natural method) session consisting of ten fundamental groups: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, balancing, throwing, lifting, self-defense, swimming, which are part of three main forces:[23] During World War I and World War II, Hébert's teaching continued to expand, becoming the standard system of French military education and training. Thus, Hébert was one of the proponents of "parcours", an obstacle course,[24] which is now standard in military training and which led to the development of civilian fitness trails and confidence courses.[22]

Born in 1939 in Vietnam, Raymond Belle was the son of a French doctor and Vietnamese mother. He was cut off from his parents by the First Indochina War and sent to a military orphanage at the age of 7. Isolated there, he had to become stronger in order to survive.[clarification needed] He took it upon himself to train harder and longer than everyone else in order to never be a victim. At night, when everyone else was asleep, he would be outside running or climbing trees. He would use the military obstacle courses in secret, but he also created courses of his own that tested his endurance, his strength and his flexibility. Doing this enabled him not only to survive the hardships he experienced during his childhood, but also eventually to thrive. In 1954, he returned to France and remained in military education until 1958, when someone who was impressed by his abilities suggested that he join the Paris fire-fighters.[4][25]

Raymond's son, David Belle, was born in 1973. He experimented with gymnastics and athletics, but became increasingly disaffected with both school and the sports clubs. As he got older though, he started to read the newspaper clippings that told of his father's exploits and got more and more curious about what had enabled his father to accomplish these feats. Through conversations with his father, he realized that what he really wanted was a means to develop skills that would be useful to him in life, rather than just training to kick a ball or perform moves in a padded, indoor environment.[4][26]

Eventually, through conversations with his father, he learned about this way of training that his father called 'parcours'. He heard his father talk of the many repetitions he had done in order to find the best way of doing things. What he learned was that for his father, training was not a game but something vital which enabled him to survive and to protect the people he cared about. David realized that this was what he had been searching for and so he began training in the same way. After a time, he found it far more important to him than schooling and he gave up his other commitments to focus all his time on his training.[26]

Initially David trained on his own, however later he found other people (including his cousins) who had similar desires and they began to train together. The group at that time included David Belle, Sébastien Foucan, Châu Belle Dinh, Williams Belle, Yann Hnautra, Laurent Piemontesi, Guylain N'Guba Boyeke, Malik Diouf, and Charles Perriére, amongst others.[citation needed] In the early development Parkour was not necessary based on specific techniques, such as jumps and vaults. The group went through all sorts of challenges that forced them to find physical and mental strength in order to find a way through. This could for example mean to choose training without food or water, or to sleep on the floor without a blanket in order to learn to endure the cold.[27]

For someone from the outside to join the group the person had to be recommended by someone that was already a part of the group and then the person had to be tested in order to evaluate the person’s motivation for wanting to join.[28] During the early development of Parkour the group started to create a training method for overcoming physical and mental challenges, complemented with specific values and principles that everyone within the group had to align to.[28] Parkour conveys the values of honesty, respect, humility, sacrifice and hard work.[29]

For example, no one in the group was allowed to be late for training since it would hold back the whole group. If any traceur completed a challenge it meant that everyone else had to do the same thing.[30] During the training no one was allowed to be negative or to complain. Few excuses were allowed. For instance, if someone claimed that his shoes were too worn out in order to make a jump, he had to do it anyway, even if it meant doing the jump barefoot.[28] At the same time, everyone was required to have knowledge of their own limits.[31]

Respecting your health and your physical wellbeing was one of the foundations of the group. If any traceur in the group hurt himself during or after the execution of a movement, the movement was deemed as a failure. If the movement only was executed once it was deemed as if it never had been executed at all. Every movement had to be repeated at least ten times in a row without the traceur having to push his limits or sustaining any injury. If any mistake was made by any traceur in the group everyone had to start all over again.[30]

Humility was an important principle.[31] No traceur was allowed to feel superior over someone else, by for example executing a movement only to show off in front of someone who couldn’t perform the movement. If any traceur in the group claimed that he had completed a difficult and dangerous challenge that should not be attempted unaided, he had to prove his claims by doing the challenge again. Anyone who lied violated the principle of humility.[30]

Despite the huge emphasis on the collective each traceur had to progress and develop independently and there was a complete trust within the group.[31] Every traceur had to encourage the others and show confidence through their behavior.[32] If someone in the group violated the principles the group could meet without the offending traceur to discuss various punishment. Any traceur who was deemd unsuitable could be temporary och even permanently banned from the group in order to uphold the diciplines values and principles.[33] Despite the huge emphasis on the collective and the principles, everyone was trying to find their own way in Parkour to fulfil their personal development.[32] The aim of parkour is to create the means to be yourself.[34]

In the late 1990s, after David's brother sent pictures and video to a French TV programme, the popularity of parkour began to increase. A series of television programmes in various countries subsequently featured video footage of the group, and as the popularity increased, they began to get more and more offers. Eventually, the original group split apart to pursue different goals, some staying with the discipline and others leaving. The number of practitioners in total though kept on increasing and parkour's popularity began to spread around the globe through television, feature film and increasing use of online video-sharing methods.[4][35]

Philosophy and theories[edit]

According to Williams Belle, the philosophies and theories behind parkour are an integral aspect of the art, one that many non-practitioners have never been exposed to. Belle trains people because he wants "it to be alive" and for "people to use it".[36] Châu Belle explains it is a "type of freedom" or "kind of expression"; that parkour is "only a state of mind" rather than a set of actions, and that it is about overcoming and adapting to mental and emotional obstacles as well as physical barriers.[36]

A newer convention of parkour philosophy has been the idea of "human reclamation".[37] Andy (Animus of Parkour North America) clarifies it as "a means of reclaiming what it means to be a human being. It teaches us to move using the natural methods that we should have learned from infancy. It teaches us to touch the world and interact with it, instead of being sheltered by it."[37] "It is as much as a part of truly learning the physical art as well as being able to master the movements, it gives you the ability to overcome your fears and pains and reapply this to life as you must be able to control your mind in order to master the art of parkour."[38]

Academic research on parkour has tended to describe how parkour provides a novel way of interacting with the (urban) environment, that challenges the use and meaning of urban space, metropolitan life, and embodiment.[39]

Traceur Dylan Baker says "Parkour also influences one's thought processes by enhancing self-confidence and critical thinking skills that allow one to overcome everyday physical and mental obstacles".[36][40][41] A study by Neuropsychiatrie de l'Enfance et de l'Adolescence (Neuropsychiatry of Childhood and Adolescence) in France reflects that traceurs seek more excitement and leadership situations than do gymnastic practitioners.[42]

A campaign was started on 1 May 2007 by the Parkour.NET portal[43] to preserve parkour's philosophy against sport competition and rivalry.[44] In the words of Erwan LeCorre: "Competition pushes people to fight against others for the satisfaction of a crowd and/or the benefits of a few business people by changing its mindset. Parkour is unique and cannot be a competitive sport unless it ignores its altruistic core of self development. If parkour becomes a sport, it will be hard to seriously teach and spread parkour as a non-competitive activity. And a new sport will be spread that may be called parkour, but that won't hold its philosophical essence anymore."[43] Red Bull's sponsored athlete for parkour, Ryan Doyle, has said, "Sometimes people ask, 'Who is the best at parkour?' and it is because they don't understand what Parkour is; 'Who is the best?' is what you would say to a sport, and Parkour is not a sport, it is an art, it's a discipline. That's like saying, 'What's the best song in the world?'"[45] This seems to be a highly consensual opinion of many professional traceurs who view parkour as a style of life more than a set of tricks, as has been popularized by YouTube and most media exposure.[citation needed]

In an interview with the press, David Belle explains that parkour is a training method for warriors. "So many people try to train easy 'Come do parkour! It's really cool!' But if tomorrow I made you do real training, you would end up crying. That's what you need to know: you are going to cry, you are going to bleed and you are going to sweat like never before."[46] Belle is an influential proponent of discipline and control in parkour, saying, "Precision is all about being measured," and going on to describe parkour as an art that requires huge amounts of repetition and practice to master.[47] Parkour to Belle is a method of self refinement and is to be used for learning to control and focus oneself.

A point has been made about the similarities between the martial arts philosophy of Bruce Lee and parkour.[48] In an interview with The New Yorker, David Belle acknowledges the influence of Lee's thinking: "There's a quote by Bruce Lee that's my motto: 'There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. A man must constantly exceed his level.' If you're not better than you were the day before, then what are you doing—what's the point?".[24]

"If two roads open up before you, always take the most difficult one. Because you know you can travel the easy one." ―Raymond Belle [49]

"With parkour, I often say, 'Once is never'. In other words, someone can manage a jump one time but it doesn’t mean anything. It can be luck or chance. When you make a jump, you have to do it at least three times to be sure you can actually do it. It’s an unavoidable rule. Do it the hard way and stop lying to yourself. When you come for training, you have to train. Even if it means doing the same jump fifty or a hundred times." ―David Belle[50]

In his book, David Belle made a point that the physical movements is not the most important aspect of Parkour, but rather the practitioners mentality and understanding of Parkours principles.

"When young trainees come to see me and give me videos telling me to check out what they are doing, I just take the tape and throw it away. What I’m interested in is what the guy’s got in his head, if he has self-confidence, if he masters the technique, if he has understood the principles of Parkour. I just can’t deal with guys who do Parkour because they saw videos on the internet and thought it was kinda cool and want to do even better." ―David Belle[51]

Further, he states the importance of being aware of your abilities and limitations and to be true to yourself. "When a young person asks me: 'Can you show me how to do this?' I simply answer: "No, I am going to show you how I do it. Then, you’ll have to learn with your own technique, your own way of moving, your style, your abilities and your limitations. You are going to learn to be yourself, not someone else." ―David Belle[50]


A practitioner climbing a wall

There is no official list of "moves" in parkour, however the style in which practitioners move often sets them apart from others.[9] Some examples of the ways in which practitioners move:[52]



Traceurs in Lisses re-painting a wall, repairing shoe scuff marks from parkour.
Prohibition of parkour at the Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2012

Parkour is not widely practiced in dedicated public facilities. Although efforts are being made to create places for it, many traceurs do not like the idea as it is contradictory to parkour's values of adaptation, creativity and freedom.[55] Traceurs practice parkour in both rural and urban areas such as gyms, parks, playgrounds, offices, and abandoned structures. Concerns have been raised regarding trespassing, damage of property,[56] and use of inappropriate places such as cemeteries.[57] A few city councils have even posted notices banning parkour in some areas — although the legal enforceability of notices like these have yet to be tested.[58] However, most traceurs will take care of their training spots and will remove themselves quickly and quietly from a public place if asked.[citation needed] Along with helping others, another value of parkour is to respect people and places. One of the first campaigns to preserve this sort of philosophy is the 'Leave No Trace' project, promoting to traceurs the importance of training safe, respecting the environment and the people around them.[59][60][61]

In most countries the law does not automatically condemn passage on private land or climbing enclosures, and it is often a civil offense rather than a criminal offense. Additionally, many countries have freedom to roam laws giving the right to passage on private property, according to some limits.

Injuries and deaths[edit]

Concerns have also been raised by law enforcement and fire and rescue teams of the risk in jumping off high buildings.[62] They argue that practitioners are needlessly risking damage to both themselves and rooftops by practicing at height, with police forces calling for practitioners to stay off the rooftops.[56][63][64] Some practitioners of Parkour agree that such behaviour should be discouraged.[63][65][66][67]

Because parkour philosophy is about learning to control oneself in interaction with the environment, leading parkour experts tend to view physical injury as a deviation from true parkour. Daniel Ilabaca, co-founder of the World Parkour and Freerunning Federation, is quoted as saying, "Thinking you’re going to fail at something gives you a higher risk of doing just that. Committing to something you’re thinking or knowing you will land gives you a higher chance of landing or completing the task."[68]

American traceur Mark Toorock says that injuries are rare "because participants rely not on what they can't control – wheels or the icy surfaces of snowboarding and skiing – but their own hands and feet," but Lanier Johnson, executive director of the American Sports Medicine Institute, notes that many of the injuries are not reported.[69] When injuries do occur, many members in the parkour community encourage pursuing the most scientifically sound method to recovery and future prevention.[70]

On October 30, 2014 a 13 year old child in Thessaloniki fell from the 7th floor and died, while attempting to do parkour and jumping between rooftops of apartment buildings.[71][72][73]


A traceuse vaults an obstacle.

There is no equipment required, although practitioners normally train wearing light, non restrictive casual clothing:[74][75]

Comfortable running shoes, ones that are generally light, with good grip and flexibility are encouraged. Various sport-shoes manufacturers have developed shoes specifically for parkour and freerunning. Many other companies around the world have started offering parkour-specific products.[76] Some practitioners use thin athletic gloves to protect the hands;[77] most do not, preferring the increased grip and tactile feedback.[78][79] Since Parkour is closely related to méthode naturelle, practitioners sometimes train barefooted to be able to move efficiently without depending on their gear. David Belle notes: "bare feet are the best shoes!"[80]

Popular culture[edit]

There have been a few documentaries about parkour on major television networks. Jump London is a 2003 documentary which explains some of the background to parkour and culminated with Sébastien Foucan, Johann Vigroux, and Jérôme Ben Aoues demonstrating their parkour skills. Jump London changed the presence of parkour in the UK almost overnight and is widely credited for inspiring a new generation of traceurs.[39] It was followed by Jump Britain in 2005. The Australian version of 60 Minutes broadcast a segment about parkour on 16 September 2007, featuring Foucan and Stephane Vigroux.[81]

There have also been a number of films featuring elements of parkour. After including parkour practitioners in a chase sequence in the film Taxi 2 in 1998, French director/producer Luc Besson produced the 2001 film, Yamakasi, featuring members of the original Yamakasi group, and its sequel Les fils du vent in 2004. Also in 2004, Besson wrote Banlieue 13, another feature film involving advanced chase sequences, starring David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli,[82][83] followed by the sequel District 13: Ultimatum in 2009. In 2006 the film Casino Royale featured Sébastien Foucan in a chase taking place early in the movie, sparking renewed media interest in parkour.[24] Along with The Bourne Ultimatum, Casino Royale is credited with starting a new wave of Parkour-inspired stunts in Western film and television.[84] Parkour practitioners also feature prominently in the film Breaking and Entering, in which two of the characters climb buildings and run over rooftops to burgle an office in Kings Cross, London.[82][83] Parkour was also involved in the film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, where David Belle was hired as choreographer for some scenes in the film and appears in the DVD and Blu-ray featurettes.[85] Aamir Khan learned Parkour for his role in the 2013 movie Dhoom 3.[86]

The webcomic Schlock Mercenary makes frequent reference to "Parkata Urbatsu"[87][88] which is said to have grown "out of the ancient disciplines of parkour, urbobatics, and youtubing. It is a martial art that focuses on both pursuit and escape in developed environments, with an eye towards the aesthetic."[89]

A number of video games include aspects of parkour as major gameplay elements. In the Assassin's Creed series of games, Altaïr, Ezio, Connor and Edward make heavy use of parkour movement, though it is named freerunning in the game.[90][91][92] Crackdown and Crackdown 2 include an emphasis on gripping and vaulting from ledges and protruding objects, which are designed to make players feel fully in control of their own movement, and by extension fully in control of their environment.[93] Tony Hawk's American Wasteland allows the character to use several movement techniques while not on the skateboard. In this game as well, it is referred to as freerunning.[94] Mirror's Edge is a game heavily inspired by parkour[95]- the core gameplay consists of efficiently moving around buildings, rooftops, and other obstacles, and made movement itself the goal.[96] Tron Evolution '​s basic movements and combat were based on parkour and capoeira.[97] Sonic Lost World added new parkour mechanics to the speed-oriented Sonic franchise, including running along walls, grabbing ledges, and vaulting from various objects and ledges.[98] In Skin Game, the 15th novel in The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, the protagonist Harry Dresden repeatedly exclaims “Parkour” when leaping over magical obstacles in the form of imprisoned demons.[99] EverQuest Next and Landmark The Game characters move using Parkour movement styles that include sliding, jumping, gliding, and flips.[100]

Military training[edit]

Although parkour itself grew out of military obstacle-course training,[4][25] it has since developed separately. After the attention that parkour received following the 2006 film Casino Royale, military forces around the world began looking for ways to incorporate elements from parkour into military training. The British Royal Marines hired parkour athletes to train their members.[101] Colorado Parkour began a project to introduce elements from parkour into the U.S. military[102] and some members of the United States Marine Corps have tried parkour.[103]

Derivative terminologies and disciplines[edit]

In 1997, David Belle's brother Jean-Francois asked the group if they wanted to perform for the public in a firefighter show in Paris.[104] The group decided to name themselves "Yamakasi" (meaning "strong man, strong spirit") for the performance. For the purposes of that performance, Sébastien Foucan came up with a name for what they were doing: "L'art du déplacement" (French for "the art of movement" or "the art of displacement)[104] The firefighter performance caused both positive and negative attention. Some members in the group were later concerned how the public would view their discipline since the performance did not demonstrate all the aspects of it, such as their hard training, and their values and ethics. During this time there was also an interest conflict within the group. Sébastien Foucan wanted to teach more rather than to train more, and David Belle had the ambition to become an actor. This caused the group to break up as David and Sébastien chose to leave the group. David Belle's friend Hubert Kunde suggested that he should replace the 'c' in "parcours" with a 'k', and drop the 's'. From this moment on, David's method of training and practicing became known as "parkour".[105] The seven remaining Yamakasi members would keep using the term "l'art du déplacement". Sébastien Foucan would keep using the term "parkour" for several years.

In September, 2003, the documentary Jump London, starring Sébastien Foucan, was released. In the documentary, the term "freerunning" was used as an attempt to translate "parkour", in order to make it more appealing to the English-speaking audience.[106] Foucan decided to keep using the term "freerunning" to describe his own separate discipline.[107][108]

The remaining seven Yamakasi members kept using the term "l'art du déplacement", also not wanting to associate it too closely with parkour. Similar to Sébastien's freerunning, l'art du déplacement was also a more participatory approach that was not all hardcore but also focused on making the teaching more accessible. David Belle kept the term "parkour", and stated that the group contributed to the development of it, but that his father was the source of his motivation and that he verbally communicated this method to only him.[108]

Both parkour and freerunning encompass the ideas of overcoming obstacles and self-expression, in freerunning, the greater emphasis is on self-expression.[107] Although the differences between the disciplines are often hard to discern, practitioners tend to aspire to parkour and describe themselves as traceurs rather than as freerunners.[109]

See also[edit]


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